The main attraction in Potosi is the mine, an actual working mine, which you visit while the workers are there. The mine is really depressing because the conditions are so dangerous and harmful to the workers’ health. Because of this, the workers don´t live very long lives, but they work there despite this because the wages, 150 Bolivianos per day (about $25), are the highest in town. If you get injured while working or visiting as a tourist, they take zero responsibility for it. Survival of the fittest in these places.
Some new backpacker friends and I were planning to do the mine tour the next day, but we got poached off the street by an Argentine guy. At first, we thought he was a slimy salesman, but he was just a slimy tourist with three friends who wanted to do the tour and needed more people to get a better deal. I wasn´t sold on going because it was late so the workers wouldn´t be there, but it was super cheap and it seemed fun with the Argentine guys, so why not?
We got suited up in rubber boots, pants, shirts, helmets and headlamps. The guide took us to get coca leaves and gifts of cigarettes, alcohol and treats for el Tio, the devil, in the mine. The guide took out a small bottle of 96% alcohol, which I´m pretty sure was just rubbing alcohol. No one wanted to try it, which was surprising because all backpackers are alcoholics, so I volunteered. We each tried only a tiny capful and it tasted like burning, all the way down our throats.
The mine was so sketchy and dangerous. It had unsecured tall ladders with broken steps; high, steep, slippery rocks we had to climb, one time with an abyss at the bottom that we´d get swallowed into if we slipped and fell; rocks that could´ve caved in and trapped us in if they were touched; and arsenic and other toxic substances on the rocks. It was a little scary. I don´t know what you´d do if you fell and broke your leg or arm, which was a big possibility, because it would be next to impossible to get out. That was my biggest fear. My friend’s biggest fear was a rock falling and trapping us. Shudder. What were we doing with our lives?
There were a few Tio (devil) shrines placed throughout the mine. Bolivians are very superstitious, so the workers visit the devils everyday and offer them gifts for good luck, so the devils will keep them safe and produce more minerals for them to mine. They respect and worship the devils because the mine is the underworld, which is the devil’s world. We visited two of the devils and offered them gifts. It was creepy.
Once we were out of the mine, we all felt relieved, but overall, it was a good, fun experience.
Offering gifts of coca leaves, cigarettes and alcohol to el Tio (the devil)
Watching Dakar, the biggest event to ever come to Bolivia, go through Salar de Uyuni, where we were the day before